Reviewed February 14, 2008.
2007 Christy Award Winner, Best Historical Novel
Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2006. 316 pages.
Cal, I don’t know how to say it, so I’ll say it. The League of Ten Friends is no more; the Decaphiloi have vanished, and the Academy of Socrates in Palestine is dissolved. Our little school has ceased to exist. Callimachus—it’s as if it never was....
Of the Decaphiloi, I give this present accounting—accurate or inaccurate as it may be, it is all I have, and that from the riffraff. Six members—whereabouts unknown. One member was murdered in a most horrifying manner; I shall not put it on parchment. One is allegedly a priestess in a temple of Dionysus—you read right, Dionysus. Don’t be alarmed: I’ve forsworn all things Dionysiac, you know that, Cal. Anyway, one member committed suicide.
And one . . . one is a madman.
This is what Tallis writes back from Palestine to Callimachus, his employer in Athens.
Madman is a historical novel based on an incident mentioned in three of the Gospels, where Jesus casts demons out of a man possessed by a legion of demons.
I’m not generally a fan of historical novels based on Biblical characters, but this was a perfect topic. There’s not a lot said about the demon-possessed man in the Bible, so there was plenty of room for the author to create his life story and a plausible, interesting background as to how he wound up in the tombs, out of his mind. The author worked in all the details, including explaining the second demon-possessed man of one account, the chains the man would break, and his fame throughout the region.
In all of the Gospel accounts, Jesus calmed the storm—a “furious squall”—just before healing the demon-possessed man. I thought the author was insightful in writing that squall as a demonic attack—the demons knew Jesus was coming and tried to stop him. The author helped me realize that Jesus cared enough to go across the lake to deliver that man—and indeed the whole region—from the evil that had overtaken him.
But that story is not the bulk of the book. Most of the story is about Tallis’s investigation of what became of the Socratic school his employer founded in Palestine. The answers are bound up in the horrible rituals of the Dionysian cult of the day. The author draws you in to the story about Tallis, as he discovers great evil, and tries to do his part to try to stop it.
A big thank you to Bethany for loaning this book to me.